I find my gratitude exercise very uplifting for such a little amount of work. I also find my grateful thoughts wandering all over the place. They aren’t just limited to the obvious subjects of gratitude like friends, health, job, etc. I’ll quickly go down paths of thought and find myself excited about the pen on my desk or the recycling can next to my desk, or the desk itself, or the legs of the desk that hold it up, or gravity, etc .
It’s not just a list of things that I already know I’m grateful for or should be grateful for – it’s discovering things that make my life great that I have never really considered. In the obvious way, the exercise is “stop and smell the roses”, but in a really fascinating and rewarding way it’s an adventure where I am off discovering new species of roses.
The Museum of Gratitude
This museum of gratitude has various objects, displays, and experiences of things you might find yourself grateful for but have overlooked or never really considered the full impact they have on your life.
There is no “right way” to go about the museum. You just walk up to what calls to you and then stand and consider that object and how it might have benefited you in some way. Unlike the gratitude exercise I do at home where I’m staring at a blank page trying to come up with what I might be grateful for, you are prompted in real life by the real things. And you have to actually physically walk toward the object, which makes the practice more deliberate, concrete, slower, and contemplative. Doing the exercise on paper, objects of gratitude can come and go in an instant. They are ephemeral. In the museum, they aren’t going anywhere.
Some of the objects will be obvious, like food or shelter or clean water.
Some of them will be things most people have never considered, like hidden mechanical parts of machines that help us or the many workers and their roles who make the products and services you use and love, or the different positive impacts the natural world has on us.
Some of the objects will be challenging and perhaps the opposite of what you might think you should have gratitude for – the smell of garbage, flat tires, a bruised ego. These will take more consideration and a likely a change of framing to feel the gratitude you have for them.
There might also be objects that don’t see to carry much meaning at all, but I think nearly impossible items might lessen the experience.
Objects + People
Obviously the artifacts in the museum are core to the experience. But there’s real connective power in an object when there is more than one person looking at it. Each of them, if they aren’t just passing by quickly, is probably thinking of a personal story related to the object. And in this museum it’s probably a positive and warm story.
Suppose two adults are looking at a childhood toy they both remember fondly. I think there is a really high chance one of them is going to comment on that in some way. “I used to love that toy” or “I played with that every day”, etc.
Suppose the display is the amount of clean drinking water the average American has available to them. Two strangers looking at that, thinking about how it affects them and feeling grateful? I think there’s a high likelihood one of them will comment on how it’s really amazing or how they never really thought about. Or how we really do take it for granted.
Because this is not a museum about the pieces in the museum. This is a museum about the people who are looking at the pieces. And it’s about their stories. And people love to tell their stories, especially when they are strong, surprising, and moving to themselves.
People also love a mystery and trying to solve a mystery. If you give them the mystery of “why are you grateful for this”, I think many people will try to solve it.
There are many ways to help that connection between people happen. You can just see what happens. You can encourage it when they come in. You can have prompts by the object. You can do that thing where people are invited to leave sticky notes around the object for others to read.
Going bolder, you could have an option where people can choose to wear a sticker that connotes, “I want to share and hear gratitude with other people when I’m looking at an exhibit”. Then those people can connect with each other while leaving others to silent contemplation.
But What’s In The Museum?
Obviously I haven’t gone into much detail here as to what the objects are in this museum. That’s for a whole other post. I think there’s some amazing design work to be done on that list.